Monday, May 11, 2020


This past  Saturday was Global Big Day, a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It allows scientists to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive list, while at the same time collecting the data to help scientists better understand birds.  Our Oblate Gigi and her husband accompanied me as we rode around Shaw Island doing our count, waving to anyone we saw, still in quarantine.  

This made me think of an article in April on NPR  about a local man, I have been in contact with, but never met. Fascinating story!

Robyn Kruse- Skaget Valley
Bud Anderson is well known in the Skagit Valley (about ½ hour away from where our ferry comes in on the mainland) for his “raptor walks”, which he has been doing for many years.  If one wants to see raptors, just drive along the highways and byways of this rich valley and watch up close as the great birds line the telephone wires.  Raptors are birds of prey that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. 
Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh. 

But there is more to Bud than local walks!

Traveling home after a flight into Seattle-Tacoma airport, you might share a ride on the shuttle with a Red-tailed Hawk. That’s because to protect passengers, planes, and birds, airport biologists Steve Osmek and Bud Anderson capture raptors and relocate them away from the airport.

In 2013, the biologists moved 86 hawks and falcons, including 23 red-tails and 41 Cooper’s Hawks. Every time the biologists catch a bird, they move it far enough away that it won’t come back. But with Seattle’s famous traffic, especially during rush hour, each journey can take four to six hours. That’s a lot of driving, particularly when you're catching three or four birds of prey a week.

That’s where Bellair Charters of Bellingham, Washington, comes in.  Each bird gets a seat on a van with other travelers. This process means a bird can be relocated within a matter of hours, minimizing crate time and stress. The airporter carries the birds, at no charge, secured in covered animal carriers, north, to safer foraging grounds near Bud’s home in the Skagit Valley.

After weighing, measuring, banding, and tagging the bird's wings, Bud releases them in wide-open country. “It’s a flat farmland area. It’s loaded with voles. It’s loaded with shorebirds, with starlings, with ducks. And so it supports a high number of raptors. Also, there aren’t too many people and certainly no low-flying jets, so they’re much safer. We take ‘em to what we call a better restaurant.” It is paradise for the birds!

Bud is director of the Falcon Research Group of Bow,  which he founded in 1985. The Falcon Research Group is primarily a volunteer-driven organization with around 1,000 members, the majority of whom are from western Washington.

It is committed to the conservation of birds of prey. Bud believes that “education is the best way to achieve their survival in the rapidly changing future.”

The Falcon Research Group provides a “portal” for the average person to engage with raptors in an up close and personal manner.

The group conducts several long-term field research projects that focus on a variety of birds of prey.  They are also involved in raptor breeding, migration, wintering and genetics studies both locally and internationally. Other programs include hawk-watching classes in cities throughout western Washington.

 But back to Sea-Tac. The hundreds of acres of fields surrounding the airport have become the perfect habitat for the field vole, a small rodent, which is a food source for the raptors.  But as we know  bird strikes can damage or even bring down a plane.

Biologists use a wide array of deterrents to keep raptors away, including pyrotechnics and other scare tactics. While some resident raptors have learned to steer clear of the flight path, for young birds, the lure of the vole can be too much, so workers will try to relocate them.

The process begins with a series of raptor traps set up around the perimeter of the airport. When one is tripped, a satellite transponder sends a text message to a team of biologists. The birds are then examined, put in a pet crate, and shipped 80 miles north to the Skagit Valley.

"We want to know where they go. We want to know where they show up. We especially want to know if they come back to the airport or not," said Anderson, who has been working with birds for half a century. “If they come back, then that tells us that maybe we need to move them further."

In the 13 years of the program, more than 686 birds have been relocated. Only seven have returned to the airport.  Pretty successful work!

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